Monday, July 27, 2009

Vive Le Tour!

Out for dinner with friends on Saturday night, and my mobile rang. It was my buddy Steve, calling from Paris: “If you can get here by noon tomorrow, you’re going to have a great day,” was all he said.

It didn’t much prodding from my dinner companions to decide. I hit the road at 5am, southbound for France. As the sun rose over the Dutch and Belgian countryside, I got another reminder of Europe’s beauty.

Finding a parking garage was pretty easy, and I made my way toward Steve’s hotel near the Champs de Elysees. It was a very warm day to be wearing a suit, but since I had a few “official” duties with Steve’s firm (he manages the hospitality for the Cervelo cycling team’s supporters), it was the least I could do to (try to) look sharp. My job was to simply assist Steve and make sure that the guests were well-cared for (escorted here and there, etc.).

Exiting at the FDR metro stop, I saw that the boulevard was already humming with activity at 11am, over five hours before the riders would arrive. Lunch was a splendid affair at one of the nicest hotels in Paris, period: The Hotel de Crillon, overlooking the Place de la Concorde (the location of the Obelisk that the riders encircle during their 8 laps of the Champs. After a very leisurely lunch, we took the short walk to one of the guest pavilions near the finish line on the Champs. The location was incredible--located directly across from a massive jumbotron, the riders passed us seconds after crossing the finish line on each lap. The shade offered by the canopy above us was quite welcomed, as temps were characteristic of the hot weather that had plagued the Tour for the previous 3 weeks.

Every time the small breakaway group and the peloton crossed in front of us, I almost had to pinch myself to make sure that it wasn’t a dream. I’ve been fortunate enough to see many incredible sporting events, including some of the classic cycling events in the world. But there’s certainly something to be said about being on the Champs de Elysees for the finish of the Tour de France.

After the race, with the green points jersey firmly attached to Cervelo rider Thor Hushovd (yes!!), it was time for the awards ceremony. Remarkably, the podium was located just off to our right, and we had a clear shot of the proceedings. Andy Schleck (2nd place overall plus winner of the white best young rider’s jersey), looked ecstatic. Alberto Contador (race winner in the yellow jersey), was obviously thrilled with his second TdF victory, though I don’t care much for the finger “pistol” salute that has somehow become his trademark touchdown dance. Lance looked...I’m not sure. It was mixture of one part disappointment at not being able to win, one part contentment of making the podium after one of the greatest retirement/comebacks in modern sports history, and one part classic Lance “I told you so” to his French naysayers.

A shot I did like was one of Lance in a tent after coming down off the podium with him and his three older kids and his new baby on his lap. Very nice.

Interesting side note: Over the course of the day, I randomly saw three Americans whom I know!

Finally, the parade of teams wrapped up the amazing day. Smiles all around.

As a cherry on top of the dessert, as I walked out of the pavilion area to catch the metro back to my car, I walked past three men--one of whom was Bernard “The Badger” Hinault, one of the greatest cyclists in history. I turned toward him, smiled, gave him a bon jour and a merci, and shook his hand. Excellent.

Thanks to my buddy Steve for the invite! Thanks to Paris for...well, just being Paris. And thanks to the cyclists of the Tour de France for giving us one of the greatest displays of sport on earth. I’m so glad I was there to witness the finish in person.

A Month of Lasts

Well...we knew the day would come: The day that we would be faced with leaving our home in Amsterdam and making the journey back to America. Without going too much into details, we knew for some time that it would be this autumn, but the exact date was in question. Now, we know--after some final European travel, we’ll be landing on U.S. shores on the 1st of September.

Visiting somewhere and actually LIVING there are two completely different things. Even extended visits in a location can’t give you a complete picture of a place. Only when your mail, your garbage, your water bills, and your grocery stores are tied to a postal code can you actually get a sense of what your home is really like. And that’s exactly what we have done during our nearly two years in Amsterdam.

As an expat, you make a very big investment in attempting to gain some level of “bi-culturality” of your new location, and I feel that our investment has been large. Learning the language, navigating the cultural waters, adjusting to a different type of lifestyle all take serious time and effort.

But for us, like many expats, the return on investment has been staggering. Travel has taken us to unbelievable destinations. Digging deep into the local culture has taught us more about ourselves and our perceptions of the world than we ever thought possible. And the friends we’ve made are much more than just casual acquaintances--they’re true friends for life.

A goodbye to Holland wouldn’t be complete without a huge note of thanks to our Dutch neighbors and the many Dutch people who have helped to make our short stay in this country a good one. It’s funny...some people make fun of the Dutch, calling them rude, insensitive at times, and closed to possibilities. Our experience has been to the contrary. Warmth, sensitivity, and a fun-loving sensibility have been the defining qualities that we’ve experienced with the Dutch. The world could be a better place if we could all take a little bit of The Netherlands with us.

Before we depart, we’ll visit the fjords of Norway and the sun-drenched beaches of the Greek isles. It’s a great way to wrap up our European journey. For now, it’s a few week of “lasts” in Amsterdam.

Edinburgh: Much more than tartans and bagpipes

Sorry for the delay in posting about our last international journey, a trip that dad and the kids took in May to Edinburgh, Scotland.

What a wonderful city! Edinburgh and it's beautiful streets, buildings, places, and people will remain as one of the very special destinations we have visited during our time in Europe. Three days of exploring were our agenda, and the city had plenty to keep adults and kids alike engaged and interested. Well done, Scotland!

Click HERE for a link to our photos from Edinburgh.